By Erin Ollila
You’ve been doing purees with your baby for some time, and now you’re ready to try letting your little one feed themselves. However, you’re a bit anxious. How do you know your baby is ready? If your baby is able to sit up on her own, put food into their own mouth, and practices a chewing motion while eating, it’s safe to try finger foods.
Not sure where to start? Here are a few ideas on how you can introduce finger foods to your little one.
Introduce Small Portions First
When your baby works through purees, thickened oatmeals, and chunky mixes without a problem, you’ll know they’re ready for finger food. But what should you try first?
Anything you want!
Mom of two Leanne Soares shares a few options her kids liked when they were learning how to eat. She says, “Some favorites were ground turkey or lightly-seasoned chicken, black beans, grated mozzarella cheese, and small shells.” Soares also made dime-sized pancakes for breakfast for her babies. Her pro tip is to use a “Ziplock bag with the corner snipped off to help — like a piping bag!”
If you’re nervous your baby will choke – and this is a common concern, so don’t feel like you’re alone — use feeding accessories to help your baby only get small amounts of the food into their mouth.
Jessica Trahan, mom of one says, “I used silicone and mesh feeders a lot at the beginning and tried cucumbers in them which he seemed to love.” Doing this gave her the confidence to keep going with new foods and more freedom. It also showed her little one that eating can be fun — and tasty.
Trahan continues, “After a little while of that I gave him very small bites of peeled cucumber and he would practice chewing on them and then spit them out. It only took about a day of practicing before he started swallowing them and we just kept adding more solids from there.”
Once Trahan felt comfortable knowing that her child could swallow baby-sized portions, she felt better introducing new options to her little one. She continues, “Now his favorites are zucchini, blueberries, peaches, shrimp, mac and cheese, and still cucumbers. Knock on wood, but we haven’t yet found anything that he outright refuses to eat.”
Healthy Finger Foods to Try at Home
When you’re ready to try new foods, you might be looking for snacks and meals you can incorporate into your family’s meal plan. Here are a few suggestions for incorporating healthy solids in your little one’s diet.
- Omelets: “My kids loved veggie omelets,” says Soares. “I would squeeze a puree pouch into an egg with a splash of milk and make a scramble with some grated cheese on the side!”
- Oatmeal: If you have leftover baby oatmeal — or even regular oatmeal — mix in some mashed raspberries for a different taste and texture.
- Baked Goods: Baby-sized pancakes, like Soares mentions above, is one good breakfast option, but any other baked good, particularly one lower in sugar, like a whole-grain muffin cut into smaller pieces would make a yummy breakfast.
- Plain or peanut-butter toast: Toast a piece of bread and spread a very light amount of peanut butter on it once you get the go ahead from your pediatrician that your child can eat nuts. Once your baby really gets good at chewing, you can add very thinly-sliced banana on top.
- Grilled cheese strips: Once your baby starts eating cheeses, melt some on toast and cut into long rectangular strips to make it easier for baby to hold.
- Deconstructed salad: Place a few spinach leafs, a slice of avocado, and diced hard boiled egg on a plate for your baby to pick and choose what they like best.
- Soup ingredients: Making soup for yourself? Your baby might want some too. Well, technically, they might just want the ingredients of the soup, like beans, noodles, meat, and vegetables. Just be sure to keep an eye on the salt content and spices you include (or add them after you take out the baby’s portion.). And remember that babies like most food at room temperature, even if you like your soup boiling hot.
- Pasta: Making macaroni and cheese? Save some slightly-overcooked shells to feed to your baby. Let your little one try them plain, and after they try more foods, you can try cheese or tomato sauce as a topping.
- Baby buddha bowls: Cut up your dinner in teeny tiny pieces and mix together in a baby bowl. Rice, cooked vegetables, beans and meat make a perfect combo.
- Popsicles: If you’re looking for a cold treat, popsicles are great options, as you’re able to mix flavors and they can practice holding something while feeding themselves. There are so many different blends you can make, like avocado and banana or orange juice with strawberry slices. If you’re short on time, store bought baby purées can be frozen in a silicone popsicle mold, too.
- Cereals: some cereals make great finger foods, and better yet, they are usually fortified with iron. Just make sure you’re confident that your little one is fully able to chew before trying options like Cheerios.
- Fruit and veggies: Once baby gets the hang of chewing, introduce soft fruits like strawberries or raspberries or cooked vegetables, like baked carrots as a snack.
Have Baby Eat What You’re Eating
Once your baby enjoys the healthy finger foods you make, and you feel more confident feeding them, it’s time to introduce them to whatever you’re eating at dinner.
Soares says, “We made it a point to have them try everything we were eating — at least putting it on their plates along with their more kid-friendly food.” She continues, “I never made a completely different meal for them. I wanted them to see us enjoying the same food as a family. Still, to this day, we all sit down together, and we all eat the same thing for the most part.”
Doing this will introduce your baby’s palate to a wide variety of tastes and hopefully help to prevent future pickiness. But don’t stress too much. In a couple years, most toddlers will go through a phase where they’re quite selective on what they will eat. Push through, and you’ll all be enjoying quality dinners together for years to come.